When Paul Swanson proposed a tubing hill for Eaglecrest, he figured it would be a good way to get people who don't ski or snowboard up to the city-owned winter recreation area.
That happened. But as it turns out, the hill provided an additional activity for people who already come to the slopes.
"Right now we are seeing a lot of skiers and snowboarders going down to the tubing area," said Swanson, ski area manager. "There's a nice mix of both adults and children."
The tubing hill, opened last season, is a variation of the traditional sledding hill. Inflated inner tubes in rubberized nylon covers are pulled up the hill by a motorized cable tow. Tubers ride up, get off, then slide back down on one of two smoothed runs. At the bottom is a tall, web-fence-topped, curved berm called a half pipe that slows fast-sliding tubers. A "chain" of uncovered tubes stops fast-riding tubers on one of the runs, while the back of a berm slope slows those using the other lane.
Eaglecrest staff attach tubes carrying people to the tow on the bottom of the run and help them get off at the top. The whole loop can take from 3 minutes when it's uncrowded to about 15 minutes when it's full.
The tubing operation is open 4 to 9 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting. The charge is $6 per session and users must be at least 6 years old.
The approximately $138,000 cost of the project came from a parks and harbors sales tax measure approved by Juneau voters in 1998.
"The project included installation of a tubing lift, additions to the existing snowmaking system, lights for night tubing plus a building that houses the generator and provides storage space for the tubes," said Eaglecrest Business Manager Gary Mendivil.
Lack of snow delayed last year's opening of the tubing area and also slowed operations this year. But since it opened in January with the second lane added, attendance has increased steadily. Two church groups helped boost ticket sales to a record 179 last Friday night, said Swanson.
"We've got both lanes going now, which works out pretty nice," he said.
Eaglecrest tubing supervisor Debbie Douglass said she's been pleased with the variety of people the hill attracts, including family groups, senior citizens and some people with disabilities.
"I like the socializing of people of all ages," she said. "A lot of people have fun. That's what makes it enjoyable."
Changes this year include the second lane and use of the chain of uncovered tubes, which bends like a rubber band, instead of staff to stop fast-moving tubers at the bottom of the hill.
"The biggest problem last year was us using people to help stop the tubes," Swanson said.
Eaglecrest's tubing area is budgeted to contribute $27,500 a year to the ski area's revenues. But the tubing hill is seen as more of an attraction broadening Eaglecrest's base than a money-maker.
"We did not look at this project to specifically recoup its initial construction costs," said business manager Mendivil.
"The thought was that the tubing area would offer affordable winter recreation for residents and visitors who do not ski or snowboard," he said. "It seems to appeal to a wide variety of age groups and we have seen a definite increase in groups that are coming up to go tubing together."
Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.